Last week, when the California State Senate Appropriations Committee declined to move SB 50 – the controversial housing bill that would do away with most single-family zoning in the most populous counties across the state – out of the “Suspend File,” it was widely reported (including here in the Larchmont Buzz), that this most likely meant that the bill was down for the count for the rest of this year, and couldn’t be brought back until January of next year, at the earliest. But it looks like that might not be the case after all, and several groups are pushing for an earlier ressurection and definitive vote.
Here’s what has happened since the Appropriations Committee meeting last week.
On Thursday, shortly after the meeting, City Council Member David Ryu echoed the sentiments of other SB50 opponents, when he said in a statement issued shortly after the Appropriations Committee’s action:
“The right thing happened in the State Senate today…There’s no doubt that our State faces a major housing shortage, but draconian steps like SB 50 are the wrong way to go. You don’t solve this crisis by stomping out community input and excluding people from planning their own neighborhood, and you certainly don’t solve it without much more affordable housing.
“Solving this housing crisis will take hard choices, but they are choices we should be making together. Last year, Los Angeles built more units of housing than any other City in California. If Sacramento lawmakers want to find real solutions to this crisis, they should be looking to Los Angeles, not trying to ignore or overrule us.”
And at the same time, State Senator Scott Wiener, the author and chief proponent of SB50, issued a statement expressing his disappointment that the bill had, like its predecessor, SB827, been blocked in committee:
“While I’m deeply disappointed that the Chair of the Appropriations Committee has decided to postpone SB 50 until 2020 – since we have a housing crisis right now – we are one hundred percent committed to moving the legislation forward. California faces a 3.5 million home shortage – equal to the combined housing shortage of the other 49 states – and the status quo isn’t working. California’s failed housing policy is pushing people into homelessness, poverty, and two-hour commutes, is pushing working families out of their communities and out of the state entirely, and is undermining California’s climate goals. We need to do things differently when it comes to housing. We’re either serious about solving this crisis, or we aren’t. At some point, we will need to make the hard political choices necessary for California to have a bright housing future.”
But while SB50 opponents were starting to sigh in relief, its proponents were already looking ahead, and now it looks like there might be movement on the bill again much sooner than January.
First came word that when the bill was held in the Suspense File by the Appropriations Committee, it became a “2-year bill,” which gives the legislature several options. According to Appropriations Committee Chair Anthony Portantino, quoted in Curbed San Francisco,“Making it a two-year bill allows [State Sen. Scott Wiener] to continue to work on an issue that […] are challenges with it.”
The Curbed story goes on to explain that “there are still technically a few ways that the bill’s fortunes could revive,” including:
“First, Portantino could change his mind—he has the option of amending his previous decision anytime. This would be the simplest solution to the impasse, but Portantino has given no public indication that he plans on making such a decision.
Second, the Senate’s president pro tempore, Toni Atkins, could effectively overrule Portantino by yanking the bill out of committee and fast tracking it straight to a vote.
But Atkins said in a Friday statement that she won’t, despite signaling her support for the bill: “I will not circumvent the decision made by the Appropriations Committee Chair on SB 50. Regardless of my own personal feelings about this critical issue, part of my job as the leader of the Senate is to uphold the authority and decisions of committee chairs.”
Finally, Atkins notes that “significantly amending the bill and limiting its applications in large swaths of the state” could prompt the committee to take it up again before January.”
Since then, pressure has been mounting from proponents on at least two of those fronts. While Portantino hasn’t announced any changes in his position so far, leaders from 11 housing groups around the state sent a letter to State Senate President Pro Tempore Toni Atkins yesterday, requesting that SB 50 “be brought back for a vote on the Senate floor for due consideration by the full Senate before the May House of Origin deadline.” (The House of Origin deadline is the date by which a bill originating in either the State Senate or Assembly must be passed by that body to move forward.)
According to the letter:
“…we respectfully request that you allow SB 50 to come to a vote on the Senate floor so that Californians may have the benefit of a vigorous debate on a bill that addresses our state’s housing catastrophe. This has been done in the past for other bills held in committee such as SB 384 (Wiener) from 2017 that was brought back and amended into another bill.”
Also, on Sunday, Wiener released a statement recounting pleas from the mayors of San Francisco, Oakland, Sacramento and Los Angeles to keep pushing for SB50. Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti was quoted in the statement via a story from LAObserved, which said:
“We need bold, statewide solutions to our housing crisis, ” Garcetti said Friday in a statement issued through deputy press secretary Ana Bahr. “SB 50 wasn’t perfect, but we can’t wait another year to work out our differences. It’s past time for the state to break down barriers to creating the affordable housing production that Angelenos and all Californians need and deserve.”
So, with those in favor of SB50 still pushing for forward movement, those opposed to the bill are also moving ahead with their efforts to make sure the bill stays blocked. A town hall meeting scheduled for Wednesday, May 23, 7 p.m. at Holman United Methodist Church, 3320 West Adams Blvd., 90018, will proceed as planned, with City Council Members Paul Koretz and Herb Wesson among the confirmed panelists. Other speakers will include Romerol Malveaux (Member, Cherrywood Leimert Block Club and Community Advocate), John Gonzales (Builder and Vice President, Baldwin Hills Estates HOA, Inc.), Hydee Feldstein (Co-Chair, Land Use Committee and Board Member, P.I.C.O. Neighborhood Council, and Brad Kane, Esq. (President, P.I.C.O. Neighborhood Council).